Academics complain about structural overtime
Over 700 Dutch university workers complained to campaign group WOinActie about structural (and unpaid) overtime. This Monday, they handed a report to the Dutch Labour Inspectorate.
Anoushka Kloosterman
Thursday 23 January 2020
Demonstration against university work stress in The Hague, december 2018

(Dutch version here)
Those that put in a complaint with WOinActie work on average 36 percent overtime, unpaid. That amounts to twelve to fifteen hours a week, one week and a half extra work every month. This results in physical and psychological problems: insomnia, exhaustion, illness, high blood pressure, migraine and many other complaints are mentioned in the campaign groups report. Another complaint: the lack of time for a private life: “Strain on relationships, divorces, alienation from children are mentioned”, the report says, “Also, some experience a lack of space to start a relationship or a family.”

The experienced increase in pressure in the past years is caused by a rise in student numbers, an increase in pressure to succeed in publication and grant application, and a lack of support, WOinActie writes. Professors and teachers work the hardest: 45 percent of them put in one and a half times as many hours as they should work, according to their contracts. “As the number of students increased, the number of hours scheduled for teaching them did not, or did not increase proportionately, so that no extra teaching staff could be hired. Unsurprisingly, staff that works in teaching experiences the most pressure.”

Because of this increased pressure on education, there is less time to spend on research, but university staff is generally judged on the amount of published research papers and secured research grants. This causes stress for the respondents that work in research, but even those that have a job exclusively in education feel it. “Teachers without a research component to their job description still feel the need to deliver research results in order to even have a chance at a new contract.”

Yoga lessons

In 2017, the universities and the labour unions agreed that the universities would make a plan to reduce the work pressure on their staff. This did not appear to have the desired effect: of those respondents that noticed these plans in the first place, only eight percent thought they had actually made a difference. In fact, attempts at increasing efficiency often had the opposite effect: 67 percent say they increased work pressure. “In some places, the plan to reduce work pressure was actually used to cut the number of hours paid for teaching a university course even further.”

Universities did offer some things to battle the stress, often measures intended to increase the carrying capacity of its employees. “These varied from time management training, to lessons in yoga and mindfulness as well as the offer of free fruit in the workplace”, the report states. Unsurprisingly, the people who put in complaints are not impressed: “87% think these measures do not work, and 13% think they make things worse, because they appear to put the blame for the stress with the employees.’

It is unclear what the Labour Inspection (in Dutch: Inspectie SZW) can actually do for them, but WOinActie are really hoping the government will invest a lot more money in higher education. “A structural investment of 1.15 billion euros would decrease overwork. With that money, the highly needed teaching staff can be hired.” The current amount of money spent on university education in the Netherlands is 5.2 billion dollars.